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Science And Nature

What ancient secrets lie beneath this little-known Irish bog?

A fresh immersive visitor center sheds light on Cide Fields, an archaeological site more than Egypts Pyramids.

Published September 7, 2022

9 min read

Flanked by dramatic cliffs and the Atlantic Ocean, a five-square-mile stretch of bogland in County Mayo blankets a field between Ballycastle and Belmullet in west Ireland. With few trees and low hills, it looks empty, but with this isolated shore lies among Irelands greatest archaeological finds.

Several bogs in Ireland have revealed glimpses of societies long past. Treasures found have included religious chalices, hordes of gold, a medieval psalter, 2,000-year-old bog butter (chunks of butter created from milk fat and buried in the bog to preserve it), and bog bodies (preserved human remains, such as for example Cashel Man, the oldest found bog body, which dates to 2000 B.C.).

Nonetheless it wasnt before 1930s whenever a schoolteacher from Belderrig, Ireland, was cutting peat for fuel that the initial remains of the biggest Neolithic site in Ireland were revealed. The discovery led researchers to discover a few of the oldest known stone-walled fields on earth, dating from about 3800 B.C.over the age of the pyramids of Egypt (2550 B.C.) and Stonehenge (3500 B.C.).

Referred to as Cide Fieldsor Achaidh Chide,meaning flat-topped hill fieldsthe site might not be as famous as the Burren, but a fresh immersive visitor experience, opened in June, might change that. As of this tentative UNESCO World Heritage site, interactive exhibits explore the annals of the walls, the ancient farming fields they enclosed, and what we are able to still find out about individuals who lived there.

Bog treasures

Millennia of decaying plant matter and waterlogged soil slowly erased any proof that Cide Fields existed until schoolteacher Patrick Caulfield, who was simply from the bog cutting peat (removing and drying turf to burn for fuel), found large stones piled in long lines deep within the muck. He wrote to the National Museum in Dublin in 1934 to alert them of his discovery. Despite the fact that they regarded the find as significant, the museum didn’t have the resources at that time to research.

Nearly three decades later, in 1963, a team of archaeologists, led by Patricks son, Seamus, used traditional iron probesnormally useful for finding fallen trees under regions of deep bogto search the land. The team unearthed foundations for domestic dwellings, Neolithic tools like scrapers and arrowheads, and acres of collapsed walls. Carbon dating later proved the website existed nearly 6,000 years back, revealing an organized, agricultural community developed the land.

With regards to early farm landscapes, [Cide Fields] can be an outstanding example at a worldwide level, says Gabriel Cooney, emeritus professor of Celtic archaeology at University College Dublin. It offers us with proof the interaction of individuals making use of their environment. Its critical to your knowledge of farming and how it just happened and the context where it happened around the world.

Patricks grandson, Declan Caulfield, continues the familys legacy at his company, Belderrig Valley Experience. He leads private two-hour to two-day excursions round the bogland where in fact the walls were first found. Through the tours, visitors grind grain using ancient quern stones, learn how local grains were milled, and understand how buildings were made using stone and wood.

My grandfather had the insight into something very ancient. I believe [his discovery] can be an important area of the story to inform, Declan says.

Guiding me through patches of tiny pink bell heather and yellow potentilla (rare finds in this oxygen- and nutrient-poor wetland), Declan explains how Irish myth and scientific discoveries could intertwine, sometimes unknowingly creating sacred spaces.

For many years locals and farmers had avoided a stone circle in your community because of superstition that it had been a fairy ring or fairy fort that may bring misfortune if tampered with. Archaeological excavations would continue to reveal that fairy fort was a Bronze Age round house, that was constructed with stones from the initial Cide Fields development.

(Venture in the Irish hell caves where Halloween was created.)

Probing the bog

While elements of Cide Fields have already been excavated, you may still find a huge selection of acres of history submerged under bogland that could never be explored. We realize there exists a large amount of material that’s still on the market, says Gretta Byrne, an archaeologist who joined the Cide Fields excavation team in 1981 as students and today manages visitors center. [But] lots of it’ll stay on the market. You merely couldnt possibly investigate every inch of this. Wed be here for another 5,000 years.

Still, travelers can try to solve the mysteries of individuals who lived and farmed on the land at the newly renovated, $2.6 million immersive visitor center, a smaller known stop on the 1,600-mile Wild Atlantic Way, among the longest defined coastal routes on earth.

With state-of-the-art audio-visual exhibits, artist reconstructions, and an observation deck offering sweeping views of the sea-cliff landscape, the guts gives visitors a deeper knowledge of Stone Age Ireland. Replicas of log boats show the way the first farmers found its way to Ireland, illustrations depict the way the woodlands dominated by pine and birch were cleared to create dwelling houses and enclosures for livestock, and interactive displays describe the way the farmers erected stone monuments to commemorate the dead.

Roberta Richiero, a tourist from Turin, Italy, says that visiting the guts is similar to being on the edge of both time and space as you are on the cliffs [which] is similar to the finish of the planet, and at exactly the same time you step back to history, just like the start of the world.

(These archaeological findings unlocked the stories of our ancestors.)

To provide further insight into how vast the website is, Byrne leads guided tours through the bog, explaining the geography, ecology, and need for rain in your community. You will need 50 inches of rain around 225 days of the entire year to create blanket bog, she says. We get rain on about 250 days.

Walking over soft peat, Byrne guides me to parts of the bog where in fact the turf has been cut away showing how deep archaeologists had to dig to unearth the walls. One section shows where in fact the ground could have been once the farmers started building and the way the bog rose a lot more than 13 feet on the settlement. Following a brief demonstration from Byrne, visitors are invited to utilize iron rods just like the ones the researchers used to create their very own discoveries.

Despite there being a lot more to explore, Byrne says its good that the majority of Cide Fields remains untouched. With excavation, as soon as you take away the soil from the bottom, that little bit of soil is actually destroyed, however in the future, there might be new techniques we cant even imagine now, she says. Thats finished . about archaeology, you can find new discoveries being made on a regular basis.

Yvonne Gordon can be an award-winning travel writer and photographer from Dublin, Ireland. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter.

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